One of the most frustrating parts of looking for a job is making it to the interview stage, but never quite moving on to the actual offer. You know you must be doing something right to get the interviews, but then why aren’t you getting the job?
If this situation sounds familiar, take a break from banging your head on the desk (or banging your head on anything, for that matter) and check these three things.
Check yourself for common interview missteps
No matter how much you prepare for an interview, you may be committing an interview faux pas without realizing it.
First, think about what you’re asking—or not asking. In many instances, asking about benefits and salary in the first interview can be premature and turn off some interviewers. But asking other questions about the organization, the job, or your interviewer’s background can help you in an interview.
Almost every interviewer will ask you at some point if you have any questions for them, and saying no can imply that you’re not really interested in the job or that you didn’t do your homework. Next time you’re prepping for an interview, make sure to have a few questions in your back pocket for this moment.
Also, think about the answers you’re giving to their questions. Do you say, “I’m a perfectionist” when asked for your greatest weakness? That’s one of the most canned interview responses out there. Instead, go with something a bit more real, something that you’re actively working to improve. Maybe you struggle to delegate tasks, so you’re taking a course on management techniques and starting out by delegating smaller tasks that are easier for you to let go. And with all your answers, use techniques like the STAR technique to avoid rambling.
Check your interviewing skills
Even if you often feel great going into an interview, your skills may not be as strong as you think. The best way to check your interviewing skills is to practice with a friend—ideally someone with hiring experience who is willing to give you honest feedback.
To set up the role play, pick a job posting that suits your skills and background and prepare just as you would for a real interview. Give your friend the job posting in advance so they can do the same. You can also give them the debrief questions that you plan to ask afterward, so they can keep an eye out for those things during the role play.
As you conduct your mock interview, stay focused and don't break character, as they say in Hollywood. That means staying in the interviewee role the whole time and not pausing to explain yourself to your friend or ask them how you’re doing.
- Once the role play is over, ask these questions:
- What was your overall impression of me as a candidate?
- What did I do well in this interview?
- What could I have done better?
- Were there any answers I gave or anything I did (e.g., body language or tone of voice) that made a poor impression?
Check your references
If your interviewing skills are up to snuff, then the problem may arise in the next stage of the process: your references.
Hopefully, you’ve selected references who will say terrific things about you. It’s not enough to have people who won’t say anything bad; a lukewarm or half-hearted reference can be just as detrimental. If you’re not sure what someone will say, ask, “Can I count on you to recommend me as a job reference?” instead of “Can I list you as a reference?” The former is more direct and will cause someone to think about what kind of reference they would give, instead of reflexively agreeing to serve as a reference.
Once you’ve picked the right people, help them give you the best reference possible by keeping them up to date on your job search and your latest accomplishments. Make sure they have a recent copy of your resume, and stay in touch to let them know how your search is going and what you’re up to professionally.
After the hiring manager asks for your list, give your references a heads up that they may be contacted, along with a link to the job posting and information about the organization. You can also tell them about what kinds of skills or experiences the hiring manager is looking for or why you’re interested in this particular job. The more prepared your references are for the conversation, the better it will go.
What if it’s none of the above?
This is the hardest part to accept about looking for a job, but it’s also the most important: Sometimes you nail the interview, your references are awesome, you have all the right skills—and you still don’t get the job. As the old saying goes, it’s not you …
There are a lot of reasons that a job offer doesn’t come through, and some of them may have nothing to do with you. Maybe they decided to hire someone internally. Maybe you were a very strong candidate, but there was another candidate who was just a little bit stronger. Perhaps the organization lost the funding line that was going to pay the salary of this new hire. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong; in any other candidate pool, you may have been the strongest candidate, and in a future pool, you will be.
If you’re doing all the right things, don’t give in to the frustration. Just keep doing what you’re doing until you find the right job—because the right job is out there.
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As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.